Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Justin Head’s Night Drive.
We start things off in South Africa with a long, overly-convoluted first act punctuated with multiple opening stingers. There’s a gang of men with guns and a witch doctor mutilating people. There’s an undercover cop dealing with a transaction gone wrong and his cover getting blown. There’s an interrogation going on by the river involving a man getting gasoline poured on him. All of this happens in the first fifteen minutes only to eventually make way for a really straight forward and basic plot, making it all feel a bit superfluous.
Night Drive is a film about a group of tourists in South Africa being terrorized and hunted by human poachers working for a creepy witch doctor. It’s basically a slasher survival movie, and once we get through that overcomplicated and jarring beginning the movie really takes off.
Aside from the feeling like we just got dropped into the middle of the film at the beginning, the first thing that struck me about Night Drive is that it looks like a real movie. I know that this would be an odd thing to say in a normal review, but this is Cult Corner. It’s not uncommon for us to be talking about movies where scenes flip flop between night and day with the change of a camera angle. Seeing something that looks like I may have actually watched it on a big screen is a nice change of pace. The direction and cinematography are well-done. Not outstanding, but the lighting is effective and spooky, with the night scenes being oppressively dark, giving off an ominous and uneasy tone. The African scenery is great to look at and the fact that they filmed in real locations certainly helps.
The cast is good. Nothing particularly spectacular, but they’re more than adequate for this kind of film. Our lead is the aforementioned cop who got his cover blown. Since the events in the beginning he has been thrown out of the force for something and the things that transpired still haunt him. Not to continue harping on this point, but if we’re going to treat his past like a mystery then maybe we could have cut that opening scene and streamlined it a bit. Either way, it’s nice to have a lead with some character development and an actual arc instead of just having cookie cutter party-goers. The tourists are a bit more disposable, but that’s okay since the main character has more going on.
The best things this movie has going for it are the villains and the sense of dread. When waiting for things to kick off, the suspense builds rather effectively. They’re out in the African plains in the dark and everything around them for miles is pitch black. These poachers can be anywhere. When it does pick up steam, the violence is grisly and visceral, not afraid to get gory but never crossing over the top. Early on they find a woman’s body with her intestines spilled out and it’s a fairly unsettling sight, displayed plainly to see. On the other hand the torture and mutilation that takes place as you watch generally happens offscreen, focusing on the character’s face, blood flying, and quick shots of the villain and the weapons instead. Sound effects go a long way here. The villains work well. The witch doctor is kept hidden for the majority of the runtime, showing quick glimpses of his makeshift claws, machete, and “handy work.” When you finally see him, he looks terrifying. His role in the film after this is a bit of a let down, but the buildup and his first reveal are spot on.
The ending of the film is another low point, being kind of predictable in where it ultimately ends up but also shockingly turning into something akin to Rambo for a few minutes. The night scenes that preceded it were wonderfully unsettling and tense, but capping things off during the day just completely changes the tone. Night Drive is a simple film that gets bogged down in unnecessary backstory, but once it gets going it’s good. This isn’t a great movie by any means, but when the sun sets, all hell breaks loose and things become wonderfully creepy and visceral. It looks and feels like an actual movie, and that’s a great change of pace for Cult Corner. Check this one out if you get a shot. You could do much worse.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.